Division of Labor

Division of Labor



Divisionof Labor

Divisionof Labor

Divisionof labor is one of the most important economic phenomon that has beenwidely studies and discussed by scholars. It refers to cooperativespecialization of labor. Although the modern economy is highlydependent on division of labor, it is not a new idea. Concepts andthoughts that define division of labor have been discussed throughoutthe history of human civilization. Historical evidence as indicatedthat division of labor was a common phenomenon among the Sumerians inthe ancient civilization where tasks were assigned to individualsdepending on their skills. Through history, division of labor, whichis made possible by specialization, has been associated withincreased output. Additionally, it has been attributed to the rise ofcapitalism, a characteristic of the modern western economies. As aresult of specialization and division of labor, complex industrialprocesses have become possible (Wadeson, 2010). The evolution ofthoughts and theories on division of labor is very interesting. Thisis the main reason for the choice of the topic. This paper will lookat the different economic theories of division of labor have emergedover the years and significance of these thoughts.

Thereseveral theories that have emerged in the historical evolution ofdivision of labor. In the Republic,Plato introduced the concept of division of labor. He argued that thefoundation of division of labor is based on the natural inequality ofhumanity. According to Plato, division of labor enabled the Republicto supply basic needs to its people. This is because in order for astate to be self sufficient, it requires farmers, builders andweavers (Silvermintz, 2010). In the Educationof Cyprus,Xenophon also talked about division of labor in the forth century BC.He stated that it is impossible for an individual who does many jobsto do them correctly. He compared a small town and a big city wherein noted that division of labor was more viable in a big city since aman could easily survive with only one job (Samuels et al, 2003).

Inmany literatures, William Petty is considered to be the first thinkerand theorist in the modern world to extensively writer about divisionof labor. He argued that without specialization and division oflabor, the Dutch shipyards could have been nonexistence. Workers inclassical shipyards worked in units to build ships where they workedtogether to finish one ship before moving to the next. However, theDutch ship builders were more successful because they were able tobreakdown the task assigned to different units (O`Brien, 2004).

The18thcentury was characterized by renewal of economic and scholarlythoughts. As a result, some of the most important economic thoughtsrelated to division of labor emerged during this time. David Hume inATreatise of Human Natureexpressed his thoughts on ‘partition of employment’. He statedthat when individuals are assigned a specific task, they attainperfection in executing the task and thus use less energy. Thisincreases the ability of humans and reduces accidents (O`Brien,2004). However, the most important scholar who has a huge influenceon the evolution of thoughts and economic application of division oflabor was Adam Smith. Adam Smith foresaw an economic system thatwould be dependent on division of labor. He argued that division oflabor was not as a result of human inequalities (Plato’s argument)and speculated industrialism which will be characterized by increasedproduction as a result of specialization and division of labor.Although he stated that division of labor will result into mentalmutilation, he outlines the benefit the economy and the society wouldderive from the phenomenon (Negishi, 2000). Karl Marx emphasized theview that specialization and division of labor will result into poorskills and reduced enthusiasm. He viewed division of labor as acharacteristic of a capitalistic society and thus an alienatingprocess. He viewed it as a necessary evil since it was critical forhuman liberation. Other economists who contributed to the evolutionof division of labor include Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and FrederickWinslow Taylor. Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced Taylorism,scientific management principle that has had a huge impact in the20thcentury economies (Sandmo, 2011).

Thereare several changes that have taken place in the modern view ofdivision of labor. As more women join the workforce and the societybecome more stratified in terms of social classes, division of laboraccording to gender and classes have emerged respectively. Forexample, there are jobs for the upper class, middle class and the lowclass. Industrialization has also had huge impacts in the evolutionof division of labor as more industries emerge (Sandmo, 2011).

Inconclusion, division of labor and its economic significance has anhistorical perspective. The evolution of labor can be traced back tothe earliest civilization. Although some thinkers and theorists havehighlighted some of the negative effects of division of labor,especially in reducing the diversity of skills per worker, majorityof theorists have attempted to highlight the benefits of division oflabor to the society and the economic systems.


Negishi,T. (2000). “Adam Smith’s division of labor and structuralchanges”, Structural Change and Economic Dynamics 11, pp 5-11.

O`Brien,D. (2004). Theclassical economists revisited,Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Samuels,W. et al (2003). A companionto the history of economic thought,Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Sandmo,A. (2011). Economicsevolving: a history of economic thought,Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Silvermintz,D. (2010). &quotPlato`s Supposed Defense of the : AReexamination of the Role of Job Specialization in the Republic&quot.Historyof Political Economy42 (4), pp 747–72.

Wadeson,N. (2013). “The under Uncertainty”, Journalof Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE),169(2), pp. 253–74.

Division of Labor

Division of Labor


Afterindustrialization, economists noted that workers had to understandthe specialization of tasks within their places of work. This meantthat in the long-run, organizations, be it in production, assembly ormanufacturing. Given this, economists and industrialist came up withthe concept of division of labor. According to Durkheim(2014), division of labor is the specialization of individuals whowork under a unit to perform specific tasks, more so those that theyhave extensive expertise in. it was necessary for the economists andindustrialists to define the concept of division of labor so thatworkers and employees would understand its underlying principles. Inlight of this, there were some special contributions to the conceptand theory of division of labor by renowned economists, such asCharles Babbage and Adam Smith. This paper is a research proposalassessing the division of labor, the contribution of the twoeconomists, and the way division of labor helps in the improvement ofproductivity.

Definitionof the division of labor

The concept of the definition of labor grew out of the need forindustrialists and economists to control labor, especially inlarge-scale economies. The traditional approach to the division oflabor was through gender and class differentiations (Kaya, 2015Mullings, 2014). However, after the advent of industrialization,countries’ economies and systems were divided, based on theindustry and its labor requirements. This was occasioned by the factthat some industries had morel levels of division than others. Forinstance, the production industry, which involves assembly,manufacturing and supply of goods, has more divisions than theentertainment industry. At the same time, the economists came up withthe concept of the division of labor to help people avoid strugglingto have knowledge in a wide variety of skills, and instead, masteringa certain set. Presently, division of labor follows global economicand educational divisions. However, modern economists derive theirknowledge of the division of labor from the ideologies forwarded bysome renowned economists, such as Charles Babbage and Adam Smith.

HowCharles Babbage handled it

Charles Babbage is considered as one of the most significantcontributors to systemization. According to him, the world is alwaysin constant need for economic system designers, who are people withthe ability of taking on and breaking down the tasks in the universeinto comprehendible pieces (Makinen &amp Kasanen, 2014). He centeredhis ideology of division of labor on this school of thought. Babbageguided other economists into a perspective of viewing the division oflabor through the lens of practical ramification. His publications onthe matter drew a lot from the works of Karl Marx, producing worksthat helped the world economists to understand economic relations inthe society through definitive division of labor. At the same time,his ideology on the subject turned out to be a popular reason forspecialization of the workers. Notably, he proposed that work has tobe divided into sub-tasks, where maximal deployment of personalskills would follow.

HowAdam Smith handled it

Adam’s Smith’s ideology on the division of labor lies on theconcept of economic growth. He published his ideas in the book Wealthof Nations (Smith &amp Bullock, 2015). By relating theidea primarily to the specialization of the labor force, Smith brokedown the jobs into smaller sub-components, just as Babbage did.However, under Smith’s thinking, each worker has to be an expert ina certain area of production that is isolated. By doing this, theworkers can give maximum attention to certain aspects of production.Additionally, Smith asserted that for labor to be adequatelyproductive, the laborers had to meet two minimum requirements. Thefirst one is that they must be able to lead production of tangibleelements in their areas of expertise, and secondly, that they mustproduce a surplus (Dumitrascu &amp Dumitrascu, 2012). In terms ofvalue, Smith described ‘use value’ and ‘exchange value’.Finally, Smith asserted that in division of labor, the industrialistshave to consider the value that is added by automation of theproduction process, and not just the workers’ specialized input.

Howdivision of labor helps the improvement of productivity

Thedivision of labor has over years proved to influence productivitypositively. Productivity is the measure of economic output, which isrelative to the amount of labor involved. According to Portes &ampWalton (2013), a complex division of labor is associated witheconomic output and the rise of capitalism. At the same time, bybreaking down specialties and assigning the appropriate personnel tohandle each, the production lines flow smoothly. This way, theproduction can meet the demand and possibly have a surplus, which canbe re-invested back into the production process. Finally, in complexproduction industries, which give the direction of economic progressin the modern world, division of labor increases technicalefficiency, a key performance indicator of success.


The division of labor is an economic ideology that gained momentumduring and after the era of industrialization. By using its concepts,industrialists and economists have been able to design labor systemsthat are geared towards global economic development. Adam Smith andCharles Babbage were some of the most notable contributors to thedebate of division of labor, and their ideologies have guided thedesign of modern economic and production systems. Studying theconcept of the division of labor will expand the knowledge base init, hence opening up more opportunities for better comprehension ofproductivity, and consequentially, global economic growth.


Dumitraşcu, R. A., &ampDumitraşcu, V. (2012). Substantiation of a method for calculatingthe intangible wealth of nation.&nbspProcedia-Socialand Behavioral Sciences,&nbsp62,203-207.

Durkheim, E. (2014).&nbspThedivision of labor in society.Simon and Schuster.

Kaya, Y. (2015). Division ofLabor.&nbspTheEncyclopedia of Political Thought.

Mäkinen, J., &amp Kasanen, E.(2014). Boundaries between business and politics: A study on thedivision of moral labor.&nbspJournalof Business Ethics,1-14.

Mullings, L. (2014).&nbspOnour own terms: Race, class, and gender in the lives ofAfrican-American Women.Routledge.

Portes, A., &amp Walton, J.(2013).&nbspLabor,class, and the international system.Elsevier.

Smith, A., &amp Bullock, C. J.(2015). Wealth ofnations-an inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth ofnations. Elsevier.